The Art of Taking a Bath


Somethings just aren’t quite as simple as one would hope – and taking a bath in Japan is clearly one of those strangely complex things.

I’m used to the etiquette of taking a public bath in Japan – there’s is a space allocated to ‘washing’, and a completely different area used for soaking in the hot water bath. The trick is not to get the soap inside the bath tub. That ruins it for other guests.

But does the same etiquette apply to using a shared bath in an Air BnB?

From the layout of the ‘bathing’ room at Yuuto Village – I’m guessing yes.

The large soaking bathtub is located to the far right of the part of the shower with the hose and the faucets, with it’s own set of faucets. In addition, there is the traditional stool provided – a seat made of plastic intended to be used to sit on while soaping one’s body and eventually rinsing off – before going into the tub. There is even the traditional low mirror, hung carefully so you can see yourself bathing.

This is very nice – but since the guests for the most part are Australians, Europeans and Canadians – I seem to be the only one who realizes that there is a reason for the odd position of the faucet with the hose. All the other guests are trying to stand in the tub to wash…

Maybe this is too much information.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Musings on the Dawn of a new Era


When we were planing our trip – one of the key days that we wanted to be in Japan was May 1, 2019. On the day before the old Emperor was formally abdicating the throne, in favour of his son. And on May 1st – the new Emperor was to be crowned. This would mark the beginning of the Reiwa Era of Japan.

It’s a key moment in history. Nothing like this has happened in Japan for over 200 years – and the planning for this was begun over 5 years ago.

So We were keen to see what, if anything, the Japanese would make of this moment.

And the answer is perhaps not surprising.

Not much is visible to the eyes of a foreigner.

Some Museums honoured the transition by having a free museum day – we went to 2 of them in hopes of there being some kind of something – but nope. Just perhaps more Japanese than normal taking advantage of the opportunity to see their National Museum, but hardly earth shattering impact.

There was a crowd gathered at the automobile exit from the Imperial Palace, we assume in hopes of spotting one of the 2600 invited dignitaries. And there appeared to us to be a bit more of a police presence. Certainly seeing 3 of those big police moving vans was a tad daunting. And there were two helicopters circling the Imperial City air space – I’m guessing either as protection or loaded with news cameras. In the US – it would be news cameras – but in Japan – I’m betting on protection.

And there was a much, much later crowd gathered at the Nippon Budokan – that sports center/music venue. But that crowd of young Japanese women buying fan items for their newest ‘hot’ idol was definitely not thinking of the new era.

So – not much to report I suppose. But at least we were here – and we had a marvellous dinner with the son of the Intrepid Traveler. Which was made more delightful after the challenges of trying to find him in the Ikebukuro Train Station. We’d agreed to ‘text’ each other our locations – but hadn’t figured on the lack of WIFI. I need WIFI to use texting here in Japan – I couldn’t afford a data plan.

After asking several restaurants and tea houses if they had WIFI, I finally decided that the safest bet were the restaurants on the 8th floor of the Seibu Department store. And I was right – they had a public WIFI, and I was able to contact my friend’s son. Whew!

Our dinner, during which the dawning of the new era in Japan was not mentioned – even once – we relaxed and enjoyed completely delicious meat slices cooked quickly over a grill. My favourite – no surprise – the Wagu Beef.

So all in all a lovely day – if not the earth shattering one we’d hoped.

Signing off – the Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

2 Down – lots to go!


The Intrepid Traveler and I are museum buffs. Serious museum buffs. So rain or shine, English or no English – we are going to visit as many museums as we can squeeze in while we are here in Japan.

Our plans for today were a bit washed out by the weather, and our own stupidity. Last night it poured – and while our home away from home is lovely – it’s also made of wood with shoji screens on the windows and what I suspect is a tin roof. So while we were safe and dry – unless we were trying to navigate that rickety iron staircase down, the noise of the rain was considerable. We woke a bit sleep deprived – but still ready to rock the world – or at least a tiny section of Tokyo.

After a quick breakfast – with a disastrous attempt at coffee (never liked instant – never will) we headed out – making our first critical mistake of the day. We didn’t grab umbrellas. Clearly overly optimistic – and an error we won’t make again. It poured on and off all day – and we were well and truly soaked by lunch time. I took off my socks and spent the afternoon barefoot in sandals – it was that wet. The Intrepid Traveler fared little better – her ‘rain jacket’ is water resistant – and gave up the ghost after noon.

We navigated ourselves around using maps.me (free off-line GPS map App) and by asking a lot of questions. I’ve gotten very good at showing folks the name of where I want to go in both English and Japanese, and the subway officials are very good at grabbing laminated maps and pointing out the correct locations. We haven’t gotten too lost – I think.

We did wander into the Yushukan Shrine – just 150 years old and dedicated to the war dead of Japan. There was a war relics museum on the site – but we just opted to clap our hands 3 times, toss a coin into the offering box, and make a quick prayer. It was a relaxing interval in an otherwise busy day.

But I digress. This blog is about our first 2 museums in Tokyo.

The Showa Memorial Museum was outstanding. I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Japan. While it definitely presents a bit of a white-washed view of what life in Japan during and shortly after WWII was like – it was absolutely fascinating – and featured a free (and extremely well worth it) audio guide in English. The museum itself is just a collection of objects and photos dating from that time period – mostly taken in Tokyo – but the slice of life that is represented is interesting, meaningful, and intriguing. My personal highlight was the rising sun lunchbox. Those who have read “Memoirs of a Geshia” might recall her mentioning it. It was amazing to actually see one.

I also found the sections on how schools were impacted intriguing. At first of course – the changes were made to encourage nationalism – textbooks rewritten to praise the Emperor and to inspire children to become good soldiers. As time went on, the need for children to want to be soldiers became more and more intense, and the schools were told point blank to work towards that direction. Eventually the need for factory workers because even more important than the need for soldiers – and school kids were taught how to operate machines. Towards the end, as more and more children were evacuated from Tokyo, the school system shut down.

After the war ended, and the children returned to Tokyo to find most school buildings destroyed or at least severely damaged. Classes resumed – but outdoors or in layered time periods as less damaged schools were used by multiple classes. Eventually textbooks went back to standard formats – but for a while they were only available in heavily censored 1940 versions. Growing up in this time period – which corresponds to when I was growing up – must have been very challenging.

Another section dealt with what happened to the War Widows. At first they were considered war heroes and given a pension. But when the war ended – that changed drastically. Widows were no longer heroes, they no longer got a pension, and many of them had no career training. Life for them was intensely challenging, simple survival because almost impossible.

All in all – the museum was well worth the visit.

A bit dryer, we now had to walk to our next port of call – the Momat – The National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. To get from the Showa to the Momat required us to walk past a lovely garden – but given the rain – we opted not to spend time there. We also strolled past the Nippon Budokan – a huge sports center that today was hosting a K-Pop concert. The crowds were considerable – and clearly out for a great time.

Following my open door policy (if a door is open – go in) – we also wandered into the East Imperial Palace Garden – which was having a free admission day. This is the grounds of the original Edo Palace – dating from the time of the Shogun, and while today it is just a lovely garden, at one time must have been a magnificent collection of buildings and flowering paths that the Imperial Court wandered at their leisure.

But eventually we made it to the Momat. After the highlight of the Showa, I must admit that the Momat was very disappointing. I found that given the wealth of Tokyo, and the intriguing public art that surrounds us as we wander the streets of the city, I absolutely expected more – a lot more – of the Momat. The price however was right – it was free to seniors over 65 – and worth exactly what we paid for it. At least we were dry.

So one winner – one loser – and wet feet. The story of our 2nd day in Tokyo.

For dinner we opted to eat in – Fresh Udon Noodles and Fried Boneless Chicken Breast. It was actually quite acceptable as a meal. About half way thru dinner – the guests that I thought spoke no English joined us – and to our surprise the young guy (Trung) spoke excellent English. His friend Anne spoke only Vietnamese and Japanese (Right – only 2 languages… sigh) We had a completely delightfully fun evening getting to know them.

They are from Vietnam, but are currently living here in Japan. Trung (27) is a student in the north of Japan, and is studying Japanese methods of Site preservation. He intends to go back to Vietnam and work there preserving the shrines and other religious sites that abound – and absolutely need preservation. We asked about getting the funds needed to do such work – and he assured us that religious sites have little trouble raising money – at their hearts the Vietnamese are quite religious.

Our conversation was wide ranging – from concerns about aging (another blog) to more political topics. – Trung told us about the Japanese law that restricts building habitation to just 25 years. According to him – and I want to confirm this somehow – After 25 years, homes (I’m guessing new construction only, or perhaps homes that are built quickly – not apartment buildings) are declared uninhabitable and must be torn down and rebuilt. He says that the law was written shortly after the end of WWII – and is based on the fact that there are earthquakes every 10 seconds in Japan. Most are very Mild ones I’m guessing since I haven’t felt any since we’ve been here. Which is a good thing. Anyway – Many homes are built of cheap materials – put up quickly – and just as quickly fall into ruin. He told us that 20% of the homes in Tokyo are currently condemned and thus vacant. And we have seen vacant homes that have clearly fallen on hard times. Even the home we are staying in was in ruins before the current owner (the grand-daughter of the original owner) rebuilt it in 2015. And she has the pictures to prove it.

He also spent quite some time discussing the current history of Vietnam, giving us an interesting if to our minds one sided and clearly a school taught view of the situation leading up to the US involvement. He felt strongly that life in Vietnam was much improved at present – I can only hope he’s right.

Eventually we toddled off to bed. I wore not only my nightgown, but also a long sleeved turtle neck and socks. I’m not getting cold tonight.

Tomorrow is another day.

The Soup lady and the Intrepid traveler – signing off.

Finding Cheap Food in Tokyo isn’t simple


We woke this morning to a sunny sky and warm(ish) weather. Our room hadn’t gotten any larger overnight of course – but the bed was comfy, and the AC worked a treat. So all in all – a nice night.

Breakfast was included in the rate if you recall – and it was well worth it! I was quite impressed with both the quality and quantity of food on offer at the APA Narita.

We’d wondered if they were going to go Japanese on us – or offer a more European take on Breakfast, and the answer was that they did it all. There was a lovely coffee machine with two different types of coffee – robust and mild. And a multitude of ways to prepare the coffee – ranging from plain black to Cafe Vienna – an almost 80% milk version that was quite delicious. I tried several options, and decided the Cafe au Lait was my favorite.

Breakfast included a simple cereal bar and two huge rice pots – one with plain and one with Shrimp fried rice, There was a bowl of orange slices, a bowl of grapefruit slices, and several different kinds of yogurt. There was tofu prepared 3 ways, egg omelets that were delicious, and some fried croquettes of potato. There were slices of smoked mackerel, a selection of salads, and even a European collection of rolls and butter. Something for everyone I suppose – and a hit with all. We took our time over breakfast, and eventually got asked to leave as they were closing the dinning area to prepare for lunch.

We went back to our tiny room, packed our bags and headed out to make our way from Narita to our lodgings in Tokyo. The night before they’d explained that we needed to walk thru one train station to get to the JR line – and they were exactly right. We found an information booth and were able to buy our tickets from them. Signs in both English and Japanese were everywhere – so it was simply a matter of reading them all to decide where we should go to catch our train.

Strangely the streets and the train seemed empty – it was only in mid-afternoon that we realized today is an official bank holiday in Japan. But it is much easier to get around when most folks aren’t trying to get to and from work – so this makes traveling on a bank holiday a pleasure.

Our trip into Tokyo was uneventful – if a tad long. The train travels thru part of the ‘rice’ belt of Tokyo – and we passed rice field after field being planted. Soon enough we started to hit the city proper – it is simply amazing how crowded the area around Tokyo has become. The Intrepid Traveler’s son had told his mom that the population of Tokyo is the same as all of Canada! And I believe it.

Our goal was a stop called Shiinamachi. As is the norm in Japan – if you look lost for even a second, someone is highly likely to come and offer you some assistance! Three times on our trip into the city, a local person would decide we looked confused, and offer to help. Once the help consisted of calling a friend on her phone – and him trying to FaceTime to help us. Amazing the Japanese.

But we were armed with a set of photo directions to guide us to Yuuto Village – an Air BnB listing that is to be our base in Tokyo.

A traditional style home dating back to the 70’s – it was tucked behind other homes, barely rating an address. But our hostess had worked hard on her photo guide, and we found the house with little problem. I just wished she’d told us to walk past the children’s park – that tiny landmark would have made us a lot more comfortable. But I digress.

The home is a single house with 4 bedrooms – not quite built in a traditional style, but of wood. – with sliding glass shoji screens on the windows and a distinctly Japanese feel to the space. There are no ‘chairs’ in the western sense of the word, but there are lots of cushions – some of which pile up high enough so that Jill and I aren’t quite sitting on the floor – a position we would find difficult to get back up from.

The main floor consists of a lovely open living area on the first floor, with 3 bedrooms upstairs – accessed up a rickety and very steep iron staircase. Downstairs, along with the living room area, there’s a small kitchen, a single bedroom, a toilet, and a ‘bath’ room that contains only a bathtub and a shower. A separate sink provides for ample washing up options. Up stairs there’s a second smaller toilet – so at least we won’t have to navigate the iron staircase in the middle of the night.

The upstairs toilet is a design I’ve never seen before – there is no sink in the space – instead the water to fill the toilet when you flush it (up for light flush, down for serious flushing) comes from a spout about 8″ above the tank of the toilet. So it’s an all in one operation. Do your thing, flush, and then hold your hands under the spout to rinse. And don’t forget to bring your wash cloth – or you are wringing your hands to dry them!

I haven’t described our room. It’s fairly large, with 2 futons on the floor and 3 huge windows for plenty of light. There is no storage – none. There is a shelf which we’ve decided to use for our suitcases – although getting to it means stepping on Jill’s bed. I think two of those folding suitcase holding thingys would be greatly appreciated. But it’s large and airy and has AC. Not that we’ve needed it – but good to know I suppose.

We have arrived too early – and housekeeping is still working on our 2nd floor room. That means we must leave our suitcase in the living area – and check out the neighbourhood. I brought prunes with me from Canada – which I put in the fridge on the shelf with our unit number – and we head out.

The neighbourhood is decidedly residential – and as I’ve never seen a residential area in all my trips to Japan – quite a lovely surprise. The nearest roads – if you want to call them roads – are one and a third car widths wide, with ‘pedestrian’ sections – can’t call them sidewalks – on each side. It’s quite lovely strolling. There’s a fairly large children’s park nearby – and it is being well used.

We find a Yakiton – a very small, very local restaurant that serves grilled Pork meat on skewers. Options include heart, tongue, colon, meatballs, and kidney). We try 2 of the offerings, but our favorite is the egg roll. Not a Chinesse egg roll – this is an omelet – and it is delicious. But despite the casual look and feel – this super light repast costs us 840 Yen. That’s a lot on a budget trip – we are going to have to be super careful. The problem was the tea – 2 glasses cost us 400 Yen. That’s pricy for hot water…

After that refreshment, we decide to head back to the train station. While the local station is just that – a train station, we’d gone thru a huge station called Ikebukuro just one stop away. There we’d spotted a department store and a lovely noodle restaurant. It costs 150 Yen one way per person to go just one stop – but we figure it will be worth it. We know that this station is open, and around our Air BnB – lots of things seemed closed for the bank holiday.

Ikebukuro doesn’t disappoint us. It’s bustling and lively – and while not packed – thank goodness – it’s fun to wander. There is a huge double supermarket on the first basement level – actually 3 huge supermarkets joined by a serious of corridors. We wander the one called ‘The Gardens’ – it is a very upscale shop, with lots of free tastes. I love the sautés meat that one gal is handing out – and there is another gal with two different kinds of cakes. You’d think that we’d be easily identifiable – we’re almost the only Westerners in sight – but at least the cake gal is willing to hand out tastes every time we walk by.

We select about 1300 Yen worth of food for dinner – a pre-cooked chicken cutlet, two different kinds of breads (one turns out to be gently stuffed with ham and cheese, the other is sweet. (Oops)). Plus I spot a lovely looking sponge cake loaf. We search the veggie section for something reasonable – but 3 Asparagus are almost 400 Yen, and a single ear of corn on the cob (which admittedly looks perfect) was another 300 Yen. I’m worried about my normally veggie oriented diet. I think that lettuce might be the only veggie we can afford.

We leave ‘The Gardens’ and realize that there are actually 2 more supermarkets attached. One is a ‘premium’ 7-11 – and the only thing 7-11 about it is the name. It’s huge. There are a line of people waiting for something, but with all the signs in Japanese, we can’t figure it out. We wander all the isles of this store, then head into the third supermarket. This is a ‘fish’ store – selling all kinds of fish and seafood – and seaweed. Piles and piles of seaweed. I think they might have been offering tastes – but I’m not that interested… Silly me really.

We finally decide it’s time to head home – but I can’t resist asking what the line-up is for. Turns out that at 5:00 PM every day they sell sliced Roast Beef at half price. You get a ‘card’ from the guy holding the ‘this is the end of the line’ sign, and tell him how much you will be buying. He deducts this from the total available, and lets you join the line if there will be any left. No – I didn’t learn how to speak Japanese overnight – a kind lady in line explained all this to me – along with a mention that the Roast Beef is delicious. Not ones to miss a bargain – the Intrepid Traveler and I join in. Eventually it’s our turn to order our mini portion – we are now down another 460 Yen – and it is definitely time to head home.

Back at Yuuto Village – our fellow guests finally appear. There are two guys from Germany who speak quite excellent English, 2 younger ladies from Australia (a mother and a daughter) – plus a couple of Asians who speak no English at all.

We spend a bit of time discussing who has done what that day – and then eat our independent dinners. The Intrepid Traveler and I decide on our plan for the next day – we’re going to hit the Showa Memorial Museum – a history museum focused on the effects of post WWII, and a neighbouring garden – assuming weather permits. It is at this point that I discover that the Prunes I carefully put in the refrigerator have disappeared. I’m shocked. Who would steal Prunes.

Turns out that the cleaning lady, as part of her duties, cleans the kitchen. And since the guest in 201 had checked out that morning, and despite her knowing that we’d already arrived – she assumed that my prunes were left overs and removed them. I’m disappointed of course – but what can I do. They are well and truly gone.

I’m definitely going to have to buy more veggies.

Our cash expenses for day, mostly for food – and a bit for travel are almost 40,000 Yen – that’s $40 Canadian – and right at the tippy top of our budget. There’s enough food left for maybe one meal – but we are going to have to find a way to get food for less. But that is a struggle for another day.

Tonight we climb the steep staircase to our traditional room – 2 futons with comforters and not much else. One of the German gentlemen carries both of our bags up the stairs in one go.. (sigh – to be young and strong) – so at least we are saved that challenge.

Tomorrow is another day.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Day 1 – The Adventure begins in Narita


The Intrepid Traveler and I are off on another of our adventures. This time we’ve chosen Japan. I know that the idea of a budget trip to Japan seems completely crazy – and I admit to being concerned – Japan is hardly considered budget traveler friendly – but here we are.

To make a budget trip these days of raising costs, no travel agents, and internet reservations requires not only confidence, but also a fair bit of bravery. The Intrepid Traveler comments here that Stupidity probably helps too. Not for us the well known brands – the closest we are going to get to a Hilton, a Marriott, or even a Comfort Inn is going to be the bathrooms!

So for the past 6 months I’ve been scouring Air BnB to find the right combination of price, location, availability, and facilities to meet our needs. We want to stay under $50 a night per person for lodging, and to be honest, it’s better for our budget if we run at around $25 a night per person. Canadian. And we want places that are close to public transit, walking distance to main sights, and highly recommended. We know from past trips that having access to a Kitchen is critical for keeping costs down, so that’s high on our list of need to have. We also enjoy meeting people, so a place that has more than just us as guests is automatically given a higher priority.

We do not need a private bathroom, although it’s preferred. And we can handle stairs – as long as it is not a 6 floor walk-up like we got hit with in Russia.

As all trips must – we started in Montreal by getting on an airplane. The lowest cost option was to break our flight in Dallas – so we flew first to Texas to enjoy some BBQ, then got on our flight to Narita.

To our amazement, the economy section was empty. I mean like – empty. I had a full row of 4 seats to myself, and the Intrepid Traveler, who is shorter than I am, took a row of 3 for herself. She was able to put her back against the side of the plane, and stretch her legs completely out.

Service was blisteringly fast. There was a full crew for about 1/3 the normal number of economy guests – so the crew could literally race down the aisles.

Interesting to note – the tiny section of ‘Option Plus’ was full – not an empty seat. So we were far more comfortable in budget economy. And on a 13 hour flight – you definitely want to be able to stretch out. I chatted with some of the attendants – and they told me this was a rare fluke. The flights out of Japan this week are over-booked. So they too were relaxing a bit before the hard work of the return trip began.

We arrived in Japan feeling, while not 100% – not completely 0% either. I’d booked what I’d hoped was a proper hotel (the APA Hotel in Narita) for our first night, knowing that after getting off that flight I wasn’t going to be able to cope with complex navigation problems. It is the most expensive place we will be staying – at a whopping $118 Canadian a night – but I figured I wasn’t going to be up to handling language challenges after the flight.

And I was right. On the booking confirmation were the times and location of the free shuttle from the airport to our chosen Palace – and while the line for check-in was surprisingly long, after about 45 minutes we were given the keys to our ‘Small Double Room with Bath and Breakfast Included’.

Small doesn’t really describe our room. It has all the essentials squeezed into the smallest possible space. The room is a rectangle – barely twice the width of the door. Actually – I think it is less than twice the width of the door.

There is a double bed that fills most of the space, with a desk featuring a 55″ TV that takes up all the rest. You can’t walk straight down the space between the desk and the bed – you must slide down sideways.

There is absolutely no closet, no drawers, no storage of any kind. The tea kettle is on the floor under the desk, and there are 2 mugs on a shelf. The required bathrobes – generally provided at all Japanese hotels – were on the bed along with the ‘Ruses for using the public bath’. There were 2 hangers on hooks in the space opposite the bathroom door. When we put our door key card in a slot, the electricity went on, and lights glowed, a most welcome sight.

The bathroom was almost as large as the bed. And was fully equipped with a 1/2 size deep soaking tub, a sink and a proper Japanese toilet with bidet functions. That said – the toilets in the Airport had bidet functions! This is Japan – proper toilets are a must.

Our first challenge was to just slide open the floor to ceiling drapes that covered the far wall of the room. I always like to see the view, and I prefer ‘real’ light. I think I might have been the first guest to do so, the dust from moving the drapes was considerable. But never mind, I found a shelf – and that was perfect for putting my purse. And our view was acceptable – over the center of Narita towards a forest of trees.

Our next challenge was to locate the light switches for the bathroom. Ok – I know – they should be near the door to the toilet – at least they would be in Canada. But diligent searching found no trace of a switch near the bathroom door. No switch on the outside of the bathroom, nor on the inside of the bathroom. Where could they be hidden? Diligent switching on and off of all switches in the room finally identified them. They were above the bed!

Also above the bed was a built-in clock radio and room control unit. Labels were in Japanese and English (thank goodness) or we’d have never figured things out. All the light switches for the room were on this unit – except the bathroom and ‘hall’ lights. Those were independent switches. The ‘hall’ switch was right near the door – it’s only the bathroom switch that proved a bit odd. And the knob on the radio (it might not be a radio actually – I can’t see a tuner) controlled the night light.

Being really good friends, the Intrepid Traveler and I worked out how to get our clothes out of our suitcases (a challenge when there isn’t enough room to put our tiny carry out bags sideways to open them), and got into bed.

I’m going to sleep – and deal with my lack of time zone correctness in the morning. Which explains why I’m blogging at 2:00 AM Japanese time!

On the bus ride here we spotted Cherry Blossoms – and the promising buds of flowers of all kinds. Tomorrow will be another travel day – we have to get to our lodging in Tokyo, but once there and settled in – we can begin exploring Japan.

Signing off to go back to bed…

The Soup Lady

Travel by Train is so – elegant!


I adore traveling by train. There is something about trains in Canada that is both glorious, relaxing, stunningly beautiful – and elegant. I’m reminded of times gone by when life was lived at a slower pace. When we had time to smell the roses, admire the deer peeking out from among the bushes near the tracks, spot birds – large and small – hidden in trees, and glaze in wonder at the remarkable countryside that is Canada.

Or at least the part of Canada that lies along the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Toronto.

I”m traveling business class – which is roughly the same price as economy air – and totally enjoying the morning out my window of the train. I’ve been welcomed with a smile and ‘can I help you’, been given a quite nice breakfast with lots of hot coffee, and am now just watching the scenery go by.

There is the predictable evidence of severe flooding out my window. This is standard in the ‘lowlands’ in the spring – as the ice and snow melt, and the ground remains frozen below that, there is no where for the water to go. And I suppose that the farmers whose fields I am flying past are well accustomed to this yearly ritual. The rivers are also in ‘flood’ mode – filled to their high banks by water that has to get to the ocean. I’ve never understood why folks persist in buying houses that yearly are in damaged of flooding – but perhaps high risk is it’s own form of adrenaline.

The route from Montreal to Toronto – by train – goes thru low gorges cut into the rocks, and as we near Toronto, will actually run along side the St. Lawrence itself. There are hiking/biking/walking trails visible when we are near towns – but right now I”m in the middle of the ‘wilds’ of Upper Canada. Not actually ‘Upper’ of course – but that’s what they called this part of Canada before they knew just how upper Canada really goes.

My purpose in taking this trip (as differentiated from my reason) is to participate in a Regional Bridge Tournament in Toronto. I actually have a friend from Alabama who drove 4 days to meet and play with me in Toronto. I really hope that I don’t disappoint her! My Reason however was to enjoy the elegance of train travel.

I do love being on the train. Canada is a remarkably clean country, as viewed thru train windows. In comparison to what we saw from the train in South Africa – we are spotless. Even homes that might be considered worthy of a de-clutter are clean and neat in comparison to the horrors I saw out of the train windows going from Pretoria to Cape town. We here in Canada really have no idea how blessed we are.

But back to the elegance of train travel. There is something – well – Harry Pottersque about this trip. I feel like I’m heading to a new adventure – and that getting there is half the thrill. A gaggle of wild Turkeys just fled from our noisy passing, and I’ve seen plenty of Canada Geese stopping over on their way further North. And there was a deer grazing in the bushes near the tracks that watched our passing with suspicion. I haven’t spotted any Eagles yet, but there have been Hawks sitting proudly on top of trees with they eyes searching for rabbits or mice stupid enough to make a dash for it out of their burrows.

And we pass homes and condos and Solar Fields aplenty. This part of Canada varies from the barely cultivated to the intensely inhabited. As we are now approaching Kingston, the ratio between untamed and highly cultivated and well built is moving towards the inhabited. I”m reminded of train trips I took in England where everywhere was highly inhabited – and there was no ‘untamed’ left. This isn’t the truth in Canada of course. While real estate values skyrocket in the ‘cities’ – in the countryside one can still imagine land being given away from basically free.

I do wonder about the lack of Blue Hoses. For those who don’t know – blue hoses are the way Maple Sap is pulled from Maple trees these days – suctioned to the Sugar Houses, then boiled to create that signature Quebec Product – Maple Syrup. But along this section of Canada there is a distinct lack of Maple Groves. I suppose a person more knowledgeable about these things than I could explain it. I’m guessing we’re talking a climate difference that makes the area around Montreal prime Maple country – and keeps the Maple trees at bay here in Southern Ontario.

The train whistle blows, a train going the other way flies past, the other passengers chat – and time slowly passes. Soon enough we will be in Toronto, but meanwhile I’m going to relax and let the world pass me by.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Why don’t folks go to the Theatre?


Not a trivial question is it. Why do you go to the Theatre? Do you go to the Theatre? And before you say yes too quickly – when was the last time you were in a legitimate Theatre – one with live actors and a real audience. Not on line, not a movie. A Theatre.

This question was asked – and the gal who asked it tried to answer it – at a ‘Chat Up’ at my local Theatre company. The price for the ‘Chat Up’ was right by the way – it was free, it was on Sunday starting at noon, there were comfortable seats – and they supplied coffee and biscotti. So while not a feast – it was an interesting hour and a half. And full. Because it turns out that both of the performances that afternoon – ‘Shoplifters’ and ’27’ were sold out.

The ‘Chat Up’ was a live interview between the Editor in Chief of the Gazette (arguably Montreal’s top English Newspapers) and a Francophone Professor of Social Media from the University of Montreal. The Professor also was involved in getting folks from the Eastern side of Montreal to come to the theatre – and briefly argued that they don’t come because they are afraid that their clothes aren’t good enough.

I beg to differ here. I don’t think the issue is clothing. I wear jeans everywhere, to the Opera, to the Theatre, to fancy restaurants, and I’ve never been turned away. I’ve seen folks in all manner of dress at the Theatre’s that the Intrepid Traveler and I frequent – and no one has ever been turned away there either. I don’t think it’s the dress code – because there isn’t one!

I think folks don’t go to the ‘legitimate Theatre’ because they can’t see how it’s relevant to their lives. It’s perceived as expensive, it’s seen as potentially boring, and it’s not always marketed as well as more ‘crowd pleasing’ options like the Cirque, Football, Soccer matches, or even Tennis. Shopping centres have done a better job of marketing than Theatres (Other than Place Des Arts) here in Montreal have done. And the ‘fringe’ events – which are often seriously cheap and quite entertaining, often have no marketing at all. If you don’t get their emails, and keep your eyes open for brief mentions here and there – the productions come and go before most folks have a chance to react!

This said – this weekend I was at two different theatre events – a production of the ‘new’ Opera 27 about the life of Gertrude Stein, and of course ‘Shoplifters’ – the play that was the nominal topic of the ‘Chat Up’. I had brought my 11 year old grand-daughter with me to see the play, and even though this was a 2:00 PM show on Sunday – when bringing young adults would seem a reasonable choice, my grand-daughter was the only person under the age of 30 there.

So one anecdotal observation that might address the basic question would be – kids are not being exposed to the Theatre. Whose fault is that? Are parents not bringing their kids because they are too busy themselves to come? Because they don’t know if the kids will like the play and don’t want to have to put up with fidgeting kids? Because they can’t afford it? I paid full price for my grand-daughter – a not insignificant investment to be honest. And a lot more than the cost of taking her to a movie, or to a swimming pool, or to even a bowling alley (do they even still exist?).

But I suspect that money is not the only explanation. I’ve often offered my children free tickets to the theatre – but unless it’s a musical and clearly on a topic of interest – they are unlikely to accept. Even my telling them that this play is a must see probably won’t bring them out. This despite the fact that my grand-daughter asked if she could go see it again! I’m of half a mind to arrange that for her. If I can’t change the opinions of my kids – can I make things better for my grandkids? I hope so.

I am blessed by my friendship with the Intrepid Traveler. She will go to theatre at the drop of a hat – and is my frequent companion. And far to often it’s her that spots the options – and invites me than the other way around. But my attempts to get other folks to join us generally falls flat. Even the offer of free tickets and a free ride down and back (I get it – night travel can be scary for seniors) hasn’t gotten them to budge.

I ran into the same issue on the bridge cruise. All the ‘shows’ were free – but attempts to get folks to join me at Mamma Mia or the Comedy Shows were rebuffed. Maybe it’s me?

My buddies opted to stay in their cabins – they wouldn’t go for free, dress on a ship is irrelevant – trust me – so that’s not an excuse, and these were not mentally challenging theatre options. So why won’t people go? It’s not the price, it’s not the dress code – what is it?

Why do thousands of folks play bridge on line, and not show up at play?

And what can I, one lonely senior trying her best to keep live theatre alive, to do about it.

Another scary statistic – 40% of folks in Quebec live alone. I’d think getting out of the house would be a huge priority – and yet – they are definitely not coming out to the live Theatre.

Musing in solitaire – the Soup Lady.

Where are you in the Global Economy?


Ok – I know – strange question from an admittedly old Grannie living in Canada – but I went to a ‘Chat Up’ at my local Theatre company yesterday, and the play they were discussing was ‘Shoplifters’ by Morris Panych. And during the discussion, the question of where we fit in the Global Economy came up.

I want to start with an awesome link – Are you in the Global Middle Class – published by the Washington Post in January 2019. So it’s up to date – and seriously interesting. You can quickly determine where an income of say – $59,000 US would put you relative to almost every country in the world. For those of us in Canada – who struggle with outrageous taxes – trust me, this is an eye opener.

Check it out.

Shoplifters is a very funny, very understandable, very mental challenging play about 4 people – 2 security guards, and 2 ‘shoplifters’. The guards are male, the shoplifters female, and the crime obvious. But how they deal with the crime – not so obvious. It is clear from the very beginning that none of these 4 people are in the upper class. And as the play proceeds – it is made clear that none of them are in the middle class either. So the question arises, what exactly is the ‘crime’?

While morally I can’t condone shoplifting, I think it just makes the prices higher for the rest of us, it is hard to avoid appreciating the protagonists point of view. As one of the security guards admit – I’ve never had a steak that good! And all 4 of them, as are most of us as well, are primary concerned about personally doing better. How to ‘do better’ is of course the real question. Is being a coat check girl for the rest of your life really ‘living’? Alma, the older and more experienced shoplifter, argues that this is not living. And I’m thinking that the folks in the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ group would agree with her.

We all want the very best for our kids and grand-kids. That goes without saying. Would I want them to think that shoplifting was ok if they couldn’t afford anything better? Or would I want them to try to find a way to afford that something better? I naturally think I’d go for the latter, but so far I haven’t really been faced with that choice.

There was a time in my life when I couldn’t afford steak. I could only afford a box of Mac and Cheese for dinner every night. But I always knew that this time would end – and maybe that optimism is what kept me from shoplifting. I don’t know for sure, one way or the other.

Bottom line – this is a great play – do try to see it when it shows up in a local theatre near you. And do check out that website. See if you in the global middle class – and where you fit in your local economy as well. Then consider the folks below you. How do they make ends meet?

Signing off to write another blog – about another topic discussed at that Chat Up – The Soup Lady

PS: if you follow my travels – my next trip with the Intrepid Traveller is to Japan – so if you’ve wonder if a low cost trip to one of the world most expensive countries is possible – stay tuned!

Addictive Behaviour and Travel Musings


I’m forcibly reminded, yet again, that human behaviour is hard to predict. When we challenge someone – it’s easy to imagine how they might react. Probably negatively of course. But sometimes even positive behaviour can result in someone behaving negatively, and that I find hard to explain.

All of this to say – I’m once again traveling. This time it’s not anywhere hugely exciting. Just to Park City Utah for some much needed relaxing time skiing, which is probably an oxymoron if every there was one. And of course a bit of Sundance for me, and a lot of Sundance for my husband and our friends. Nestled in amongst the skiing and the movies is even a bit of competitive bridge playing – so all in all, I’m hoping for exciting times.

But how is this related to addictive behaviour? Ah – as always, I do have a point. When I travel, particularly long airplane trips which define boring, I entertain myself by watching movies or playing games on my iPad. Right now – I’m actually writing this blog en-route between Montreal and New York City, but that’s not the norm. The norm is to play video games.

And I’m finding that video games are getting more and more addictive. I refuse to pay money by the way – so I only play free to download games, and I blissfully ignore all their attempts to get me to spend money. But don’t tell the designers. If they figure out how many of us make rather hard use of their offerings with out contributing even a penny to their coffers – I’m sure they will come up with some underhanded slight of hand method to make us cough up some dough.

But right now – all my favourite games are free. Well, free if you don’t mind blanking out for 30 seconds or so every few minutes while they show you a mindless commercial for yet another addictive computer game.

I will admit, and I suspect the same can be said of most of my readers, I have actually done the dirty deed of downloading an app that was shown to me first in another app. Twice actually. I felt bad about doing it – but I guess that generated some money movement somewhere in the great mystery that is the internet, as one app developer paid another app developer.

So – what apps do I find addictive I hear you wonder. Here is my current favourites – roughly in order of time spent playing them (and watching their commercials).

#1 Most Addictive – Criminal Case. I’ve been playing this game for almost 3 years. No joke. It’s been a long long time. I played it when we were just criss-crossing the US, and now I’m traveling the World. Currently I’m in Indonesia solving a murder that involves a young woman and a subversive group called ‘Sombra’. This is a search and find game with the occasional other type of puzzle. Nothing particularly hard to solve, but I think the graphics are very cool – and I’m enjoying the evolving story line. Best of all – it can be played off line. Which means that you don’t need Internet. This is a huge advantage over others of it’s type.

#2 Most Addictive – Harry Potters Hogwarts Mystery. The biggest downside to this game is the WIFI required aspect. So if you don’t have a strong WIFI connection – no game. The idea is simple, you are a student at Hogwarts, several years before Harry Potter will arrive. There’s slightly younger versions of the popular teachers like Snape, Dumbledore and Flitwick, plus a new teacher who you meet in the 4th year and who teaches Care of Magical Creatures. You can adopt pets (I have a Cat, an Owl, a Toad, a Dog and a Rat), you can adopt Magical Creatures – (I’ve adopted a Niffler and a Fairy), and you can explore the school. Like Criminal Case, I love the graphics, I think going to the classes is a hoot – and I’m continuing to play because I’d love to adopt a flying horse! This game is a demanding time waster though. Energy is recharged a one point per 4 minutes, so it takes about 2 hours to get back to full ‘strength’. You can get extra energy by spending real money (nope – not doing that), picking up bits of energy here and there around the school (I like clicking the stick and watching a young Fang run out to chase it), and by spending gems. But the easiest thing is just to wait. Again, not a difficult game, and probably a snore-fest if you aren’t a Harry Potter Fan, but I am, and I love it.

#3 – Woody Puzzle – This is a new game on my iPad – and it’s a version of Tetris that doesn’t allow for rotations. It’s un-timed, and not limited. You don’t use up energy that needs to be topped up by failing, you just start again. The only down side is that every start again requires watching a short commercial – but that’s not a huge price to play for a game that is really quite strategic in it’s way. No WIFI required – so you can play whenever you feel up for it.

#4 – Garden of Words – This game, and Woody Puzzle, were downloaded because of marketing on my other games. Again this one has no energy to rebuild, you keep working on the puzzles until you solve them, or give up and ask for a hint. The concept is actually kinda fun. There’s a ‘plate’ of 5 or 6 letters – and a cross-word format to fill in by picking letter after letter. A bit like scrabble, if scrabble was really easy to play and very forgiving. There are apparently over 2000 word puzzles to solve – if one believes the marketing. Again – no WIFI needed – so you can play any time you want. This game is apparently available in other languages – even though I play my games only in English, I’ve been seeing ‘commercials’ for this game in French. I think it knows I’m in Quebec.

So – those are the games that I’m playing while I travel today. If you have a moment – I do recommend them, at least do the free download and give them a spin. You have nothing to lose except time… And maybe that’s what’s really wrong with these games – they steal time!

Signing off because the plane is landing and they are definitely going to expect me to get up and get out!

The Soup Lady

Party Central at the Toronto Pride Parade


I’m a tad conservative – I’m not talking political, I’m talking life style. Husband, kids, house, grandkids – conservative lifestyle, conservative dress – you wouldn’t think from looking at me today that there was a flower child in my past. And the honest truth is that there wasn’t. I was in University during that period in history – but I spent that time studing physics and computer science, not marching from rights at every opportunity.

Color me conservative.

So you can also color me surprised to discover that I’d managed to decide to visit Toronto during Pride Week. This is a massively important week for Toronto, if the sheer number of rainbow flags, wall hangings, designs, and posters is any measure. I don’t think it would be possible to ignore the fact that it was Pride week anywhere in Toronto, but my sisters and I had managed to reserve ourselves a VRBO rental right in the heart of the Gay Village. No way we were going to be ignoring the festivities. Much to our surprise, we were part of them!

Hot Spot Central for Pride events is Church Street near Bloor – and we were just 2 very short blocks away on Mutual Street. We couldn’t have asked for a better location if we’d realized what we were signing up for. Church Street is party central, and we were just far enough away to avoid the noise – and close enough to have to walk thru it every time we ventured out.

We arrived in Toronto on Thursday, navigated our way to our lodgings, and quickly realized that something was happening. The unmistakable signs of a huge street fair being set up were everywhere. Tents being dropped off, boxes and boxes of supplies being unloaded, and giant marquess being set-up at all the major street corners were just some of the more obvious hints. And to say that folks were dressed – well – distinctively – would be an understatement. Clearly, something big was happening, and it didn’t take us long to put it all together. Of course – Pride Week – with the huge Pride Parade (over 3 million people (apx?) attended in 2017) was happening on Sunday.

By Saturday, things were in high swing. The street closures started at Bloor and Church and extended for blocks and blocks – well past where we were and only petering out at around Gerrad Street. Even the local Loblaws – a super Loblaws with both an upstairs and a downstairs was in on the act. An entire section of the grocery store was getting a quick redesign as a dance floor – with a DJ of course. Folks were handing out free drink samples at both entrances – Some kind of Lemon/Lime Coke at one door, and a fru-fru water at the other. Nothing like shopping to head-banging noise…

The hundreds of stalls set up along Church were definitely an eclectic group. From Light your Dick (selling penis shaped candles), to a wooden watch display whose 6’2” salesman wore high heels and a sequinned top, to a pose yourself in a bathtub photo opp – there were stalls the likes of which I’ve never seen before.

The lower portion of the parade route was devoted to more community oriented stalls of the likes of Save Water (handing out free metal water bottles), Pet Rescue (with their doggy mascot in his wheel chair), and a huge 2 floor bar/DJ set-up sponsored (yes I asked) by the largest Pot growing company in Canada. Nope – no free samples there!

My sisters and I wandered up and down the street – many times with our jaws dropped open in surprise at the clothing choices of some of our fellow revellers.

There were drag queens galore – some young, some definitely not so young. One of my favourites was wearing a dashing ballon headdress – and not much else. There were men – at least a dozen in my best count – sporting the full Monty. They had on rings that were strategically placed – I never did figure out why, but if you need to know – ask a guy. Leather strips formed a lot of the clothing options, as did push up bras, corsets, and tatoos. For some reason – lots of guys were wearing dog masks – mostly of the German Shepard variety – and being lead around on chains by either other men, or young woman. I will leave to the reader’s mind to figure out what they were doing. There was a Goth Statue of Liberty, a guy wearing ‘grapes’ (I think he was from a wine store), and lots of belly buttons (and other parts) on display.

And the noise – oh my – the noise. Every major street corner had a DJ booth and dance floor set-up. Some were massive 3 story affairs with light shows. Other’s were a bit more subtle – but not by much. One booth was playing a wild rendition of YMCA as we struggled past, but most were the more popular younger music that I can barely recognize as music. It’s mostly base noise, with a hint of melody.

And this party lasts, lasts, and lasts. It started warming up around noon on Saturday, and only slowed down a bit when it rained late Saturday night. On Sunday morning they began gearing up for the main event – the Pride Parade, but we opted to avoid both the rain and the crowds by heading towards the Royal Ontario Museum. This kept us dry and relatively sane. We let the crowds of Pride Parade Goers do their thing with out us. There is only so much Full Monty I need to see in my life.

Would I go back to Toronto for Pride Parade? Nope. Been there, saw that – I’m done. Would I suggest you check it out? Sure! It was eye-opening for sure.

Signing off to go back to her conservative life-style…